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Hunger in America: 2015 United States Hunger and Poverty Facts

World Hunger Education Service

Hunger in the United States

Six  years after the onset of the financial and economic crisis, hunger remains high in the United States. The financial and economic crisis that erupted in 2008 caused a significant increase in hunger in the United States. This high level of hunger diminished somewhat  in 2013, according to the latest government report (with the most recent statistics) released in September 2015 (Coleman-Jensen 2015a).

Poverty in the United States

The official poverty measure is published by the United States Census Bureau  and shows that:

The supplemental poverty measure was first published in 2011 by the Census Bureau and addresses  concerns that have been raised about the official poverty measure. A principal concern is that  the offical poverty measure does not reflect the effects of key government policies that alter the disposable income of families and thus their poverty status, such as the SNAP/food stamp program, the school lunch program, and taxes.  (For a good brief discussion of these issues see  below and also U.S. Census Bureau 2011, p.1-3 or an online infographic, U.S. Census Bureau How Census Measures Poverty.")  Taking these adjustments into account, the supplemental poverty measure for 2012 (U.S Census Bureau 2013)  showed  2.7 million more people in poverty in 2012, compared to the official poverty rate.  

Who is poor under the two measures shows some definite differences. The percentage of children in poverty is 18.3 percent of the total population in poverty with the supplemental measure and 22.3 percent with the official measure; while people over 65 are 14.8 percent of the total population in poverty in the supplemental measure and 9.1 percent in the official measure (U.S Census Bureau 2013, p. 6).  The supplemental poverty measure does measure poverty more accurately, and it is gratifiying to see that programs to reduce poverty and hunger among children have had an impact. 

Causes of hunger and poverty

(Hunger is principally caused by poverty so this section will focus on causes of poverty.)

There are, we believe, three main causes of poverty in the United States: poverty in the world; the operation of the political and economic system in the United States which has tended to keep people from poor families poor, and to a lesser extent, actual physical and behavioral issues among some people who are poor.

Poverty in the world  There are a lot of poor people in the world.  To take those  at the bottom, an estimated 1 billion people are poor (at the $1.25 income per day level, and 800 million hungry . (World Hunger Facts)  They are much, much, poorer than people in the United States. In the world economic system there are two main ways in which relatively poor people have their income increased: through trade, and through immigration.  Trade, we believe, is the most important.

The operation of the US economic system  The operation of the US economic and political system has led to certain people/groups being relatively disenfranchised.

The normal operation of the economic system will create a significant amount of poverty. 

The operation of the US political system, The US political system, which should address the major problems of its citizens, is to a great extent not focused on fundamental concerns of poor people, but on other concerns. 

The culture of inequality

Programs to address hunger and poverty


Sixty-two  percent of food-insecure households in the 2013 survey reported that in the previous month, they had participated in one or more of the three largest Federal food and nutrition assistance programs (Coleman-Jensen 2014b, p. 2). The programs are the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, the relatively new name for the former food stamp program, the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC), and the National School Lunch Program.

SNAP/Food stamps  

(Source:  CBPP 2015b. Also see Wikipedia SNAP.)

  WIC (Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children)

Source: CBPP 2014c.

National School Lunch Program

(Sources: FRAC School Lunch Program, and also New America Foundation Federal School Nutrition Programs and  USDA National School Lunch Program .)


Perhaps the three principal programs that provide income and other assistance for poor people are the minimum wage, the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), and the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) program. Other important  programs, not discussed here, include Medicaid and the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) and, for older people, Social Security and Medicare. 

Minimum wage

(Source: CBPP, Minimum Wage. Also see Wikipedia, Minimum Wage.)

The Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC)

(Source: CBPP EITC.)

Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) 

Last updated September, 2015


1.  To get population figures from family size figures, multiply family size numbers by 2.58, the average family size.


Coleman-Jensen, Alisha, Matthew P. Rabbitt, Christian Gregory, and Anita Singh. 2015a. "Household Food Security in the United States in 2014." ERR-194. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service, September 2015. Access this report by going to http://www.ers.usda.gov/media/1896841/err194.pdf   

Coleman-Jensen, Alisha, Christian Gregory, and Anita Singh. 2014b. "Report Summary: Household Food Security in the United States in 2013." U.S. Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service, September 2014. Access this report by going to http://www.ers.usda.gov/media/1565410/err173_summary.pdf

Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.  "Chart Book: TANF at 19" http://www.cbpp.org/research/family-income-support/chart-book-tanf-at-19   Accessed September 18, 2015.

Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP). 2012. "Policy Basics: Introduction to  TANF." http://www.cbpp.org/cms/index.cfm?fa=view&id=936 Accessed September 18, 2015

Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP). 2014. "Policy Basics: Introduction to  the Minimum Wage." http://www.cbpp.org/cms/index.cfm?fa=view&id=4192 Accessed September 18, 2015.

Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP). 2015a. "Policy Basics: Introduction to the Earned Income Tax Credit." http://www.cbpp.org/cms/index.cfm?fa=view&id=2505  Accessed September 18, 2015.

Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP). 2015b. "Policy Basics: Introduction to the Supplemental Nutrition Program (SNAP)." http://www.cbpp.org/cms/index.cfm?fa=view&id=2226  Accessed September 18, 2015.

Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP). 2015c. " Policy Basics: Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC)." http://www.cbpp.org/cms/index.cfm?fa=view&id=5268  Accessed September 18, 2015.

DeNavas-Walt, Carmen and Bernadette D. Proctor. 2014. U.S. Census Bureau, Current Population Reports, P60-249. "Income and  Poverty in the United States: 2013."  U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, DC. http://www.census.gov/content/dam/Census/library/publications/2014/demo/p60-249.pdf

Food Research and Action Center. "National School Lunch Program." http://frac.org/wp-content/uploads/2009/09/cnnslp.pdf  Accessed February 2015.

New America Foundation. "Federal School Nutrition Programs." http://febp.newamerica.net/background-analysis/federal-school-nutrition-programs  Accessed February 2015

Short, Katherine  2014  "The Research Supplemental Poverty Measure: 2013." United States Bureau of the Census. http://www.census.gov/content/dam/Census/library/publications/2014/demo/p60-251.pdf  

United States Bureau of the Census. 2014. "Poverty Thresholds." http://www.census.gov/hhes/www/poverty/data/threshld/index.html

United States Bureau of the Census. 2014. "How Census Measures Poverty." thttp://www.census.gov/library/infographics/poverty_measure-how.html 

United States Bureau of the Census. 2011.  "The Research Supplemental Poverty Measure: 2010 http://www.census.gov/prod/2011pubs/p60-241.pdf

United States Department of Agriculture, Food and Nutrition Service. 2014. "National School Lunch Program: Background and Development"  http://www.fns.usda.gov/nslp/history

United States, Heath and Human Services. 2015.  "TANF. Total Number of Recipients 2014." https://www.acf.hhs.gov/sites/default/files/ofa/2014_recipient_tan.pdf

Wikipedia. 2014. "Earned Income Tax Credit." http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Earned_income_tax_credit 

Wikipedia. 2011. "Factor price equalization." http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Factor_price_equalization 

Wikipedia 2014. "Minimum wage." htthttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Minimum_wage

Wikipedia. 2014b.  "The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act." http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Personal_Responsibility_and_Work_Opportunity_Reconciliation_Act

Wikipedia. 2014c. "Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program." http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Supplemental_Nutrition_Assistance_Program .

Wikipedia. 2014d. "Temporary Assistance for Needy Families." http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Temporary_Assistance_to_Needy_Families



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